Express & Star

Sandwell Aquatics Centre helping inspire new generation of divers four months after opening to public

It was the only newly-built venue for the 2022 Commonwealth Games and has now been open to the public for four months.

Sandwell Aquatics Centre

Sandwell Aquatics Centre in Smethwick boasts the only 10-lane, 50-metre Olympic-sized swimming pool in the West Midlands, along with a 10-metre high dive tower and 25-metre dive pool.

It hosted more than 60 medal events across 11 days of swimming, para-swimming and diving and was intended to create a lasting legacy for the area.

The facility is now being used by thousands of people each week, with visitor numbers growing since its launch.

One youngster the centre has helped to inspire is 10-year-old Tommy Stubbs, from Solihull, who dived straight into Sandwell’s training programme.

The budding diver first showed an interest for the sport two years ago, but his hopes soon came to a halt when his parents discovered the lack of suitable training facilities in the local area.

Tommy’s father, Dave Stubbs said: “We started him off at another pool in the region and he absolutely loved it, he had a bit of knack for diving.

"However, we quickly found out that for him to progress and gain his higher certificates, he’d have to go elsewhere, so we started looking further afield.

"We found the nearest competitive clubs were in Corby and Sheffield, but again some of the development opportunities were limited, so we were left with Sheffield or London.

Tommy Stubbs competing in a recent diving competition. Photo: Dom Deoison (Bespoke Imagery)

“We’ve been travelling up to Sheffield, which is a 180-mile round trip, every Friday since February 2022. It takes us roughly two hours each way and there have been occasions in the past when I’ve had to turn the car around due to traffic. The travelling really takes it out of him.

"However, as part of Sheffield’s Skills Squad, Tommy has been able to gain his higher certificates, which he was unable to do here in the Midlands.”

Sandwell Aquatics has launched its diving coaching programme.

Tommy took part in a trial and is currently in the competition squad.

Dave said: “For Tommy, being able to train at Sandwell means he’ll be able to practice at a higher standard at least two to three times a week rather than just once a week.

"The scope of equipment will also give him the boost he needs to reach a competitive level.”

With junior medals already up his sleeve, Tommy is making the most of the brand-new facilities, particularly the dry land area which features five springboards, a foam pit, trampolines and a sprung floor to practice and refine skills.

“He’s really excited to be part of a squad that is more local to him and to represent the West Midlands,” added Dave.

“His ultimate goal is to compete on the world stage at competitions such as the Commonwealth Games and Olympics. His coach competed in the Commonwealth Games last year and that gave him a real boost – just to see her on the television was really inspiring, he said it was amazing.”

Dan Gorsuch (left) with head coach Nigel Mills

For Dan Gorsuch, the aquatics centre helped to inspire a career change.

From a young age, he loved sport and diving but it wasn’t until he attended the Commonwealth Games in support of former teammate, Ruby Thorne, that he ever considered leaving behind his teaching career to coach poolside.

“Just being in that incredible atmosphere, it made me think I would love to be a coach, I’d previously done my coaching badges for diving and the games made me want to be able to take my own team of divers to these amazing events," he said.

As if by fate, a job opportunity for an assistant diving coach came up at Sandwell Aquatics Centre, which opened to the public in July, after being adapted following the games.

Dan said: “What with the amazing diving event at the Commonwealth Games, the incredible pool and dry land facilities, I thought this was too good of an opportunity to miss.

“It’s going to be an amazing job. I’ll have the opportunity to visit schools with head coach Nigel Mills and run talent testing with children of all ages, meaning we could be seeing the future athletes who will compete at the likes of the Olympics.”

The new role has seen Dan relocate to the region from Essex.

Sandwell Aquatics Centre

“When I came to Birmingham for the Commonwealth Games, I got to experience the buzz of the city first hand. There’s so much going on, why wouldn’t I jump straight into the opportunity?” he said.

Comprising a dry dive area and three pools with five springboards and five diving platforms up to ten metres high, the state-of-the-art facility will provide scope to nurture local talent, as they work towards representing the county.

Dan hopes this will elevate the West Midlands’ platform and earn its status as one of the best counties for diving in the UK.

While the goal is to train future world champions, Dan said the aquatics centre team was keen to build and develop the foundations of the diving programme as part of its efforts to attract a raft of talent.

“Our goal is to put the West Midlands on the map," he added.

"We want to see children represent the club at local, regional and national competitions, but in order to do that, we need to spend time building and refining the foundations of the club and the programmes we offer.

"If all done correctly, then there’s no reason why we couldn’t have divers competing at major international competitions.”

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